We interviewed Kathleen Peterson, Founder and Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting to get an expert’s take on the subject of finding and working with a call center that delivers the highest levels of branded customer care. Kathleen, who works with the world’s top customer-focused companies, is a respected call center consultant and recognized industry leader in the field of customer experience.
GR: How can a brand ensure that a call center is a good fit?
KP: The brand should start by doing their due diligence and finding out as much as they can about prospective call center partners. The brand needs to examine how each call center handles programs for other clients and ask call centers to explain their strengths and weaknesses. Then the brand can determine how those match up with its requirements.
When visiting prospective call centers, the brand should pay attention to the visible level of commitment to clients. Are client products and marketing materials displayed in the agents’ workspace?
When I visit a call center with a luxury retailer looking for a partner, we can often tell right away if it’s a good fit or not. Pay attention to first impressions. The retailer should ask about procedures to ensure there’s effective communication between the brand and the call center, in addition to between the call center and customers. The retailer should talk to program managers about their practices on gathering information about customers and relaying it to the brand. Find out how long brands have been clients.
GR: Are dedicated agents essential to a good brand experience?
KP: A dedicated group offers advantages in delivering a consistent, high-quality experience, but a call center should offer both shared and dedicated options, which demonstrates its flexibility.
If a call center does offer shared environments, it should group companies in the same or similar industries together—luxury brands, outdoor equipment providers, etc.—and have them served by the same agents. Why? Because it’s not possible for even the best agents to handle calls for clients in a dozen different industries and provide anything resembling a branded experience.
GR: Why do you say the call center is “the lifeline of the enterprise”?
KP: No other function has contact with so many customers that’s as direct and as frequent. The call center is in a position to gather and supply valuable insight and information to the brand. The data the call center can collect on trends, the response to campaigns, the social media conversation, issues with the website, and much more helps brands know and serve their customers better.
The call center can also relay information about preferences of loyal buyers, the performance of a product, issues with shipping or packaging and so on. The call center should gather that information, organize and analyze the information, and share it regularly with the brand. That can be a huge help in streamlining processes, reducing costs, marketing more effectively and delivering a better customer experience.
GR: What can a brand do to ensure its call center delivers a branded experience?
KP: The brand needs to take responsibility for managing the call center and making clear what their objectives, key performance indicators, and expectations are for clear and ongoing communication. They can’t respond only when there’s a problem. If you neglect your management responsibility, you’re forfeiting your right to criticize the call center’s performance—partners can’t provide a branded experience in a vacuum. Brands need to provide the program manager at the call center with current marketing information, tested promotional codes, the authority to offer customer appeasements and more. This kind of collaboration is essential to consistently getting the level of superior customer care you want from your call center.
GR: How can a brand ensure that the customer experience is unified across all touchpoints, including the call center?
KP: By establishing standard, documented procedures that everyone interacting with customers follows. This goes back to the theme of how a call center becomes a partner by being a source of information and actionable business intelligence. The call center should share valuable information they’ve gathered through speech analytics, analysis of CRM data, social media analytics and so on. If they do, those responsible for other channels will also seek out the call center as a partner, and best practices will become standardized across touchpoints.
GR: What’s the difference between a cost-focused and a customer-focused call center?
KP: For a call center like Global Response, the cost is better seen as a value-based fee. Their Brand Care Specialists serve as brand ambassadors for clients, and the call center’s product knowledge, business intelligence and brand care make them a customer-focused partner. That’s the right fit for today’s leading brands, which recognize that customer service has become a key competitive differentiator. In fact, according to a new Oracle study, “Global Insights on Succeeding in the Customer Experience Era,”* more than 90 percent of executives list “improving the customer experience” as one of their top strategic objectives. If it’s that important, selecting a call center specializing in brand care is clearly the right choice.